With its variety of fun, fruity flavors and its light, wispy smoke, a centuries-old smoking mechanism known as a hookah is gaining traction among teens and young adults.
According to a recent study published by The American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly one in five high school seniors report having tried the smoking method, which entails vaporizing and smoking wet tobacco, called shisha, through a water pipe. And several local teens and young adults reported the trend is popular among their peers.
"I've never done it, but my boyfriend has one," said 20-year-old Marietta resident Sarah Keffer.
Photo illustration by JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
A young woman smokes hookah Wednesday. The practice is becoming more popular among teens and young adults.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Shisha, a wet flavored tobacco smoked in hookahs comes in many flavors, such as the double apple flavor pictured above.
While Keffer, a non-smoker, does not understand the appeal of the hookah, a handful of her boyfriend's friends enjoy the activity as well, she noted.
Another indication of the hookah's rise in young adult popularity is the increase in hookah lounges-especially around college campuses-where users can rent and smoke from hookahs. In Marietta, hookah bar Rajah's Den opened in 2012, and Athens has two of the smoking lounges.
Friends Alli Bloomingdale, 20, and Kate Mercer, 18, both have friends who frequent Rajah's Den, and the two admitted smoking a hookah out of curiosity. But neither plan on making the activity a habit.
18 percent of high school seniors surveyed between 2010 and 2012 reported smoking from a hookah in the last 12 months.
20.2 percent of high school males reported hookah use.
16 percent of high school senior females reported hookah use.
Hookah use among high school students rose from 4.1 to 5.4 percent between 2011 and 2012.
In 2012, 1.3 percent of middle school students reported using a hookah.
Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The American Academy of Pediatrics.
"I don't see a point in it," said Mercer, of Barlow. "It kind of makes me sick. If anything, I just watch people do it."
Part of the appeal is that hookah is a social activity, something for young friends to do in a group, Mercer speculated.
Often the pipes come with multiple hoses, meaning more than one person can smoke from a single hookah at the same time.
But smoking a hookah also seems, on the surface, less harmful than traditional smoking, said Bloomingdale, of Marietta.
"I think a lot of people think it's not as bad as smoking, but it is," she said.
Indeed, studies have found that smoking hookah not only poses the same risk as other tobacco products, but in some cases heightens those risks, said Stephanie Davis from the Washington County Tobacco Prevention Program.
"It's a charcoal and water formula used to heat the tobacco, and studies have shown that there are higher levels of carbon monoxide, metals, and benzines found in hookah than in traditional tobacco smoking," said Davis.
Indeed, the carcinogenic compounds are sometimes doubled in hookah smoking, she said.
The shisha smoked in a hookah is like any tobacco product, regulated by law to only be sold to and consumed by those over 18. But that has not stopped even younger adults from getting in on the trend.
Warren High School student Cole Wigal, 17, gave a look of disgust at the mention of the trend.
"Nothing with smoke," he exclaimed.
But Wigal admitted he knows of one or two of his classmates that smoke hookah.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that hookah use among high school students increased from 4.1 to 5.4 percent between 2011 and 2012, and 1.3 percent of middle school students reported using the tobacco method in 2012.
Allison Seers, a 17-year-old Pomeroy resident who attends Athens City Schools, said she has heard of underage classmates using one.
"I know people who have had someone buy them one up town and go home and smoke it," she said.
Seers' best friend is 20 and enjoys hookah.
"She's at the hookah bar up town every night....I think she likes the flavors," she said.
The flavorful tobacco options point to another trend Davis finds unsettling. Often available in flavors reminiscent of snow cone varieties-flavors like bubblegum, watermelon and gummy bear-the tobacco trend seems specifically geared toward pulling youth into the tobacco market, said Davis.
"You're not going to find a 65-year-old man smoking peach hookah. The marketing is geared toward our youth as a safer alternative," she said.
Calls to Rajah's Den in Marietta were not returned this week. Representatives from the two hookah bars in Athens were not available for comment.
Clients at the local hookah bar have to be 18 years old according to Ohio law, said Marietta City Law Director Paul Bertram.
"As a minor you're not supposed to be able to buy any tobacco products," he said.
To his knowledge there have been no complaints about minors being present at the hookah bar in Marietta, added Bertram.